In its own effort to apply innovative working methods, with the aim of supporting the attainment of the 2030 Agenda and beyond, the High-level Committee on Programmes (HLCP), at its thirty-sixth session in October 2018, engaged in an exploratory discussion on strategic foresight. Recognizing the considerable benefit of anticipatory, adaptive and future-aware perspectives to enrich the Committee’s work in addressing complex, interlinked, rapidly changing and unforeseen challenges that the world is facing, and taking into account existing foresight experiences and capacities within the United Nations system, the Committee, at its thirty-seventh session in April 2019, agreed to pursue the creation of an informal network on foresight and conduct a pilot exercise thereon.
Foresight is an organizational capacity that the United Nations system can use to gather and process information about the future operating environment, allowing for the creation of various scenarios of alternative, planned and desired futures. While they do not predict the future, foresight tools, methodologies and design processes are able to mine the external political, economic, social, technological and legal environments for trends and developments and leverage those insights to inform and improve decision-making today.
In line with its role of promoting forward-looking, proactive, innovative and strategic thinking on current and emerging global challenges, the Committee decided to focus the pilot strategic foresight exercise on the theme of the future of work in sub-Saharan Africa, while factoring in the impact of population movements, including due to climate change. Building on recent work by the United Nations Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) and the Committee on the theme, namely the United Nations system strategy on the future of work and making use of other relevant analyses, insights and data available across the United Nations system, the Committee engaged in a one-day foresight exercise at its thirty-eighth session in October 2019. It confirmed the practical relevance and applicability of strategic foresight to the Committee’s system-wide analytical and policy coherence work and provided concrete guidance in support of the implementation of the strategy of the United Nations system on the future of work.
Informal HLCP Strategic Foresight Network
The Committee at its thirty-eighth session welcomed the establishment of the informal HLCP Strategic Foresight Network led and coordinated by UNESCO and agreed to utilize it to inform HLCP’s analytical work. The network aims to promote and support foresight capacities across the UN system and foster cross-agency and system-wide collaboration. It functions as an open and informal platform among HLCP member entities experienced or interested in strategic foresight, with the aim to:
- Promote sharing and cross-fertilization of experience, approaches and tools, and best practices and lessons-learned to strengthen the shared understanding of and collective capacity for applying foresight approaches to the efforts by the UN system.
- Encourage networking, mutual learning, and synergies among senior-level officials engaged in strategic foresight as well as between them and relevant external experts as appropriate.
- Provide future-aware analyses and perspectives on topics of system-wide relevance, through collective futures-thinking and joint foresight exercises as appropriate, to inform, enrich, and “futures-proof” the work of HLCP/CEB, as well as other pertinent UN mechanisms as relevant.
- Support HLCP’s efforts to contribute to a culture of “futures-orientation” and promote “futures literacy” of UN staff through the sharing of foresight-related information and experience arising from the network’s efforts.